From OTT platforms to publishers: Here’s how to make money

Bringing advertisers to OTT platforms hasn’t been historically easy. “From the beginning…there really wasn’t a lot of demand from the buyer side,” said Kenna Ranson, the director of ad products and revenue at the anime focused Crunchyroll, which has been in the OTT space for an impressive 10 years.

That long ago, TV was still the only real attraction, but buyers have long since seen the appeal in OTT platforms. In the last six to 12 months particularly, Ranson has seen a “huge surge” in advertisers moving their dollars over to OTT, and the forecast is for this momentum to continue. Still, fragmented audiences and a lack of “clicks” to track their behavior on OTT platforms presents challenges for publishers looking to cash in on the medium.

How can publishers grab up those dollars and take control of their revenue futures in this still growing space? Execs from OTT platforms have some ideas.

“Funnel” viewers from free to paid premium.

Crunchyroll offers both a free, ad-supported (AVOD) and a paid, premium (SVOD) service, and Ranson calls the former “a way to encourage folks to subscribe” to the latter. Faye Walker, senior vice president of marketing OTT networks at Cinedigm, which manages AVOD/SVOD channels like Con TV, described this tactic, “We use AVOD service as a funnel to convert customers to SVOD.”

You can trust Walker’s advice because she’s following it. Cinedigm’s Docurama, which for a while only operated an AVOD service, launched a $4.99/month subscription service on Amazon Prime earlier this year. Walker admitted that operating a subscription service is “cleaner and easier” than the “challenging” ad-supported alternative. If publishers can manage to guide customers through the AVOD to SVOD funnel, they’ll have a smoother time managing revenue and better control over monetization.

Overcome the “challenge” of ad-supported.

While subscriptions are the holy publisher grail—offering a “cleaner and easier” revenue stream—the ad-supported business is likely to grow as more money flows toward programmatic TV buying. Plus, ad-supported is oftentimes what leads users to subscribe to publishers’ OTT content in the first place. To manage the more “challenging” ad-supported alternative, Cinedigm employs a programmatic ad platform. The technology allows them to bridge both the content and the device divide.

This divide also affects publishers’ ability to collect information on their audiences. As a result, advertisers often gain an upper hand in OTT because audience demographic information can be limited. “The one push-back that we often get from advertisers is that there’s not a lot of data,” Ranson explained. It’s not easy for publishers to collect this data, but there are ways.

Ad servers know your audience.

Warner Bros., which oversees ad sales for a number of TV properties gone OTT—like DramaFever’s Korean soaps—has to use different measurement tools across different devices to accomplish this.

Nonetheless, the company’s SVP of national sales, Chris Lindquist, said, “We’re able to get parity across Roku, connected TV, and mobile and tablet all through our one ad server.” Essentially, programmatic lets Warner Bros. collect robust information on gender, age, and other general demographics as well as assess the connection between their OTT and linear viewership.

Show buyers that different platforms mean different audiences.

Warner Bros. OTT content all grew up on linear TV, where advertisers easily understand the value of their audiences. Lindquist calls this is a “natural alignment,” making it easier for these advertisers to move with TV shows to OTT destinations. But buyers still have to understand that OTT viewing is different from TV viewing, and the audiences aren’t identical, either. They merit unique ad experiences.

DramaFever, for example, consists of multiple Korean properties with TV origins, spread across various Korean channels. With this content all available in one place and accessible online, advertisers are “connecting with a whole new, broader subset,” said Lindquist, who works with both direct and programmatic sales teams at Warner Bros.

Crunchyroll’s Ranson believes that giving publishers control in OTT means they must “really empower and educate [their sales] teams” on “what the value propositions are” for advertisers. For Warner Bros.’s DramaFever, that value proposition is the large set of very passionate 13 to 34-year-old females who represent “a cross-section of America” when it comes to ethnicity and race—as opposed to the original Korean viewers of DramaFever’s content on TV.

Take advantage of the tech.

While Warner Bros. focuses heavily on direct sales, they use programmatic tools to help round out their inventory. Many of their properties, along with other OTT “channels” like Crunchyroll, operate both AVOD and SVOD services across many platforms. “We have different [advertising] partners for different devices…and different geographies,” said Ranson of Crunchyroll. Managing multiple revenue models in an OTT environment requires serious organization, and it can take a beyond human capacity to do it.

Thus, publishers are increasingly turning to technological tools to help them holistically manage (and take charge of) their relationships with advertisers, such as those that help SSPs better interact with their DSP partners. “Working with the right partners is critical, especially when it comes to services like ad-delivery and management,” noted Gaurav Gandhi, COO of Viacom 18 Digital Ventures, which operates Voot, an ad-supported OTT service.

To really take charge in the OTT space, publishers need to make sure their ad game is on point and promote upcoming industry standards like VAST 4.0 which help a publisher’s player or ad server accept the right ad in the right creative format for many OTT applications. Leveraging their unique data position to inform smarter dynamic ad insertion, publishers can help match ads to content and viewers, delivering a more personalized experience beyond what linear TV can offer and ultimately, maximizing revenue.

Fortunately for publishers, as the OTT landscape matures, so do the tools of monetization.

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